NBA: Kings Q&A: Nina Davuluri

The 2014 Miss America winner, advocate and speaker talks Bollywood Night, Vivek, advocacy and more!

Prior to the team’s Bollywood Night game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday in Sacramento, Kings.com caught up with 2014 Miss America winner Nina Davuluri – the first winner of Indian descent in contest history – to learn more about her story, her visit to Sacramento, Bollywood night and much more.

How much has your life changed since winning Miss America in 2014? 
Oh my goodness! Where to even begin? It’s difficult to condense my journey to a few sentences, but I will certainly touch on some highlights! Since winning the title of Miss America, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with almost 35 different colleges and universities about my platform, “Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency.” I’ve also been working with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and even met with President Obama and our First Lady. Furthermore, I also have a partnership with the US Department of Energy and US Department of Education to promote women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education. As you can see, I’ve kept quite busy but what I’m most proud of that this title has given me a voice–a voice to actually spark positive change and advocate for causes that align with my values. Currently, I’m continuing my advocacy work with my own platform of Cultural Competency and also partnered with Girl Rising to promote the power of education for young women globally.

How special was it to be the first Indian American to win Miss America?
It’s an honor but also a large responsibility. My story is unique in the sense that it was completely uncharted territory. Miss America has always been viewed as the “girl next door.” I grew up feeling like I could never be in this role because I didn’t look like the “stereotypical” Miss America. Ultimately, this wasn’t about me. It was about reaching out to a new demographic of young women that is representative of America today. Moreover, it was about reaching out to that young girl who was watching the competition the night I won and for her to finally be able to say, “Wow, this year Miss America looks like me. And I don’t have to fit a stereotype or mold to be in this role.” For me, my most fulfilling moments are when I interact with young people and they are inspired by my story–I will always say that this was for all of us and they inspire me to continue the work I’m doing.

What does it mean to you to be in attendance for Bollywood Night? Is it your first time in Sacramento? First Kings game?
I’m so excited! It’s my first time in in Sacramento and my first Kings game, so I’m looking forward to a great experience!

You performed a traditional Bollywood dance for your talent during the competition, how excited are you to perform with the Kings Dancers here on Bollywood Night?
Can. Not. Wait! Due to my busy travel schedule, I haven’t been able to perform since winning the title! I’m excited to have fun and share my joy and love of dance and expression!

Do you feel nights like Thursday’s Bollywood Night help continue the conversation surrounding your platform to promote and celebrate cultural diversity?
Absolutely! I’ve learned that assimilation has to happen from both sides. Finding a balance between both cultures is an important process for every individual. I’m living proof that you don’t have to choose one culture over the other or feel like you have to sacrifice a part of your identity. I’m very proud to identify myself as both Indian and American. And that’s essentially the American Dream–that regardless of your race, ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic status people have the opportunity for prosperity and success so long as they work hard for it. Which brings me to my second point: work hard. Never underestimate the power of hard work.

You had a chance to speak at the White House, what was that experience like? 
Completely surreal! I was honored to meet with President Obama in the Oval Office shortly after my win. I was also invited back to the White House Easter Egg Roll and was able to read to groups of children and their families. Being able to interact with everyone was such a heartwarming experience!

You attended a speech by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden, did you get a chance to meet with Kings Chairman Vivek Ranadivé? 
It was an honor to be asked to host the reception for Prime Minister Modi at Madison Square Garden. It was such a historic and monumental event for Indians across the globe. I was able to meet with the Prime Minister in NYC as well as San Francisco this past year. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to meet Chairman Ranadive yet! We were both honored with awards at India Abroad back in June, so our paths have crossed a few times, but we have yet to officially meet!

What did it mean to you when you heard Vivek purchased a professional American sports team, becoming the first Indian-born person to do so?
It was truly a milestone for our community–and I have to share a quick story about an experience in college. During my sophomore year at the University of Michigan, Stephen Ross was one of our commencement speakers. I remember going to commencement to listen to his speech in hopes of walking away with some wisdom. As he reflected on his journey, he shared a story about his personal desire to own a national sports team because that was a part of his American Dream. In that moment, I remember thinking to myself “nothing says you’ve made it in America than owning a sports team.” For that reason (and many more), I have sincere admiration for Vivek’s motivation and efforts to redefine such an iconic position.

What is next for you? 
I’m continuing my speaking and advocacy work over the next year and then plan on pursing my MBA focusing on International Relations.

This article originally appeared on nba.com on January 7, 2016: http://www.nba.com/kings/blog/kings-qa-nina-davuluri

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